Don’t Lose Your Voice

In the UK we are fast approaching an important decision, one that could change the way we view ourselves and how others view us as a nation. At such a time it is more crucial than ever that we make the stand and use our democratic right to voice our opinions and air our concerns before it is too late. As a fellow British citizen I am therefore appealing to everyone in the countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island to stand with me and unite on something that we all too often overlook and belittle. Something that we often cast aside and ignore instead of taking action.

For the love of God, please complete a passenger claim form when you’re delayed on the train.

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You only have 28 days to get it sent in (as I learnt all too painfully last time) and heck, you can even fill it in online. By letting it slide you are letting those big train corporations win and let them edge one step closer to thinking poor signalling is acceptable on British train lines. You will not silence me today Mr. GWR, not today.

Joking aside, please don’t forget about the General Election on Thursday 9th June. If you’re voting on the day you have between 7am and 10pm to cast your vote at a polling station, or if doing it by post be sure to get this bad boy in a red letter box near you.

Passenger delay compensation forms and voting. Two equally important things everyone needs to get excited about.

An ‘Educational’ Delay at Swindon Train Station

The weather forecast for today was predicted to be a hot and sunny affair. The weathermen and women of the UK were even daring to utter the warnings of potential sunburn. They needn’t have made such rash suggestions, it only took five words; “temperatures in the high teens”. Suddenly all of Britain snapped into action, if you didn’t have plans for Sunday 9th April then you were either a weird person or a fool. Not wanting to be labelled ‘weird’ (got my street cred to maintain and all) I decided to spend my day off in the fair Welsh capital of Cardiff.

Now, owing to awkward road routes and lack of a car (the latter being more of an issue than the former) I decided to take the train. Via Swindon’s train routes the earliest one can get into Cardiff is 10:53 which in my opinion is too late to begin with, but hey I’m not the train God or a fat CEO man so one has to put up and shut up with these things. This morning I rushed about to get everything done to a strict time schedule to enable me to be out of the door and at the station in time for the first train of the day, the 09:51 to Swansea (via Cardiff Central). Having powerwalked from home to station on a warm morning I arrived at Swindon train station, hot and sweaty, to see this:

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You can probably imagine how I felt right then. Delayed trains, story of my ruddy life.

After a lot of face scrunching (that I imagine resembled something like this…)

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…I resided myself to the truth that I would be waiting at this station for forty plus minutes longer than planned and made myself somewhat at home in my new surroundings. Surroundings that I’d seen a lot of over the years as a commuter (but to be honest didn’t really care about but now I was forcibly making myself care about to pass the time).

During my delay I learnt some interesting things about Swindon’s train station. Actually, I lie, they’re not that interesting.

I learnt that the station has an old building on the other platform for London trains. Old but not that special:

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I also learnt that the station parking is a right royal rip off:

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This part of the station meanwhile is completely overgrown with weeds. My train fare may be going on rail replacement works and cleaning staff, but would it kill someone to buy a couple of bottles of Weedol?

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And what, I repeat, what, is going on here in the ladies’ loos?

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That is no visual trick – there is a randomly empty cubicle space. It made me think of all the things one could do in such a space, but then I realised where I was and decided to not linger more than I needed to. Clearly three toilets are more than enough for female passengers, “if we give them four they will start a revolution! No, we must contain the masses and ensure that the British culture of queuing continues to live on.”

(There’s also this sad sign:)
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After walking up and down the same platform multiple times I had funnily enough run out of things to photo. I Googled the history of the weird clock outside on the forecourt.

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I learnt that its official title is (I think) the ‘Golden Jubilee Clock’ – very inspiring. Call me cray but I think it was commissioned in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Gold Jubilee celebrations. Don’t quote me on that though, I could be completely off the mark on that one.

It also used to live in the town centre…

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…before being relegated moved to the train station. How very, very, very, very interesting. Thank you Great Western Railways and your overrunning engineering works for giving me the time to find that out.

By this point I was borderline ripping my eyes out. “HOW MUCH LONGER MUST I WAIT?!” Was the repeating monologue running through my head. The feeling was mutual among all passengers up and down the platform, the tutting was almost audible. Finally, thirty seven minutes later than planned the delayed 09:51 to Swansea showed up. I smugly hopped on my train, leaving behind other delayed passengers. “Heh, enjoy your thirty four minute delay suckers!” I thought.

Upon arrival in Cardiff over an hour later I quickly dashed across the city to one thing I did know, and know it very well. After all that I needed decent coffee and I needed it asap. Cue my ultimate most favourite coffee shop, Barker Street Tea Rooms:

 

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Hmm, what to demolish first…
Sat there with my caffiterie and book a thought crossed my mind. “Wait, how long was I delayed by again?” I picked out my train ticket and compared the departure time with the accurate information on my mobile train tracker. With a beaming smile I discovered I had been delayed by thirty three minutes. Thirty was all that was required to submit a ticket refund claim.

Suddenly the time spent at Swindon train station a couple of hours beforehand didn’t seem like such a big a deal. I reflected on my experience and decided to write a blog post about it. I took a sip on my overpriced but delightfully luxurious coffee and lifted my cup ever so slightly in the air. “Thank you Network Rail,” I thought, “this one’s on you.”

 

UPDATE: I have since discovered that GWR doesn’t offer compensation unless the delay is a minimum of 60 minutes! What is this tomfoolery?! I’m a very unhappy bunny!

When The World Came Together at Oxford Station

Standing in the terminal of Oxford railway station I’m familiarised by a classic mix of passenger. The cyclist awkwardly pushing her bike through the ticket barriers, a toddler being led by the impatient mother, the Asian tourist with overflowing bags in hand. Watching the tides of people pour in and out of the confined space it reminds me that at any given moment the order of society, including this station, sits on the brink of collapse and chaos. All it takes is one broken signal and everything will grind to a halt.

If you thought the term ‘diversity’ could only be applied to whole streets and towns then you may need to think again. For contained in these four walls of peeling white paint, tapped across the utilitarian stained floors there speaks a more fascinating image of a fast-paced melting pot. An environment where, for the most fleeting of seconds, East bumps into West, North connects with South, rich mingles with poor. At this train station everyone is unified in the same gripes and grumbles. A delayed train, an out of order toilet, another drunk passenger, they are all received with the same unimpressed reaction.

Waiting for an old friend to arrive from London I am left to wandering thoughts which flow as seamlessly as the passengers coming in and out of the terminal. In this sea of faces and voices which type of passenger am I? Someone awkwardly shuffles behind me to get to the ticket booth I inadvertently block. Does my insistence at lingering beyond my welcome make me the tourist? Men in suits glance my way for a short period before I realise they are staring at the LED light boards above my head. If they are London bound they will need to go to platform one. Does my in-depth knowledge of platform order make me more a commuter? Next to the screaming child and passive aggressive guards it’s hard to think much beyond the bigger question “why am I here still?” It is just at this very point that my friend greets me with a cheery welcome, snapping me out of trance.

Leaving behind the dim and crowded terminal and entering the light exterior my friend’s first thoughts mark a very different take on modern life. “What an awful building!” he says, gesturing to the bricks behind. All thoughts of passengers and trains disappear as I’m faced with a more pressing question from my companion, “now, where on Earth are we headed to Miss Bennett?”

If only life and cityscapes were as easy to interpret as the passengers at train terminals.

Nablopomo Day 19: Quick, Someone Call Jeremy Corbyn! (A Solution to Traingate)

First there was this from Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the political UK opposition party, Labour:

 

Then there was this reaction from Virgin Trains/the media:

 

Look, politics aside, all I’m going to say is that if Jeremy wants to visit Bath Spa on a weekend he is more than welcome to hop on board my Great Western Railway train.

 

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I’m more than happy to share my carriage with him if he’s ok with getting the coffee round. He also has to promise not to ignore the seats and sit on the floor (like last time). If he’s going to be like that he can take his hummus and sandals elsewhere.

The 12:37 Train from Swindon to Bath Spa

As I sit here on the Sunday afternoon 12:37 train hurtling towards Bath Spa it seems funny to think that what seems normal and run-of-the-mill now was a massive event back when I was nine years old. The first few train journeys I ever made were half an hour excursions to the dizzying heights of Worcester, accompanied by mum and my sister. The speed, sights and blurred colours all seemed so amazing, it was as if I was on a theme park ride. I never wanted it to end.

Flash forward some fifteen years and reality seems to have become quite different. Intrusively lit LED screens and computerised announcements are the only sights and sounds that stick in my head now and, as I sit here staring at a mobile screen, it is safe to say the stunning English countryside woos me less than my pre teen incarnation. Spoilt by a glut of train commutes, all I care about now when boarding is getting into a carriage with plenty of free double seats.

I am now arriving into another station. Is it mine? No, although they all look the same nowadays. Mostly simple constructions, their importance and status marked by the presence (or lack of) a Pumpkin Cafe, WHSmith or an M&S Food outlet at the bigger stations. These platforms appear to have none. The Victorian canopy is the only thing that suggests the station once held a degree of status in a bygone era. Not that I’m paying too much attention. Just another minor hold up on my route to Bath.

As we pull away I can see below me a flat canopy of brick and tile, interspersed with warehouses stocking mass produced, cheap, furniture and DIY goods. Glancing at it I ponder that this imagery before me could belong to any town across the United Kingdom, there are no unique features in the flat red skyline.

The light suddenly drops and the internal train lights brighten up. The little town is gone and replaced by a long tunnel. If I were not writing a blog post I could well be cursing this engineering masterpiece for interrupting my telephone signal, or my ability to like a photo on Facebook.

Seconds or maybe minutes (for who has time to dwell on the passing of time?) we exit the dark space. My mind is indifferent but my body welcomes the return to normal pressure. Over recent years my ears have taken a disliking to the changing characteristics of air in varying locations. Hills and small communities surround me and I know I must be on the final leg on my passage to Bath. These small communities must have been so isolated and undisturbed before the train line came. Is my carrier a blessing or a curse to these hillside villages?

And here I am, arriving into Bath now, where the occupied, Georgian, buildings are so beautiful and the derelict, graffiti covered, constructions are so ugly. Better pick up my belongings and quickly brush out my fringe, for the train is starting to slow down.

I now stand on the platform, gracefully dumped, and watch as the large diesel engine bellows smoke into the pure blue sky before powering on towards Bristol. He has fulfilled his promise today, for I have arrived at my destination on time. As far as our commuter-train relationship is concerned I can ask no more of him than that. Beauty and delicacy was never in our original agreement. So off I now head towards the ticket barrier, accompanied with the conviction of a girl that has done this a hundred times before.

My friend will be here soon and with the arrival of an old alliance my mind will fill with altogether different thoughts. Jobs, boys, ambitions, after two years apart there is much to discuss. The shops will sparkle with Christmas goods every so often to distract us, but conversation will undoubtedly pull us back to the heated debate over the rising price of merlot. The train will turn from hero to villain, pulling us both apart when our laughter hits its highest decibel.

Will I tell my friend about this commute? Of course not. Because, after all, what’s so special about the 12:37 train from Swindon to Bath Spa?

 

Written as part of the National Blog Posting Month (Nablopomo) challenge to write a post for everyday throughout the month of November. This post was written for day 13.